The proof of the pudding

Climate & Natural resources,Food Security03 Nov 2010Hans Eenhoorn

We are now at the fourth day of the conference. Have you heard anything new on solving the problems of food security and climate change? I haven’t. Let there be no mistake, organizing this conference (and it is extremely well organized) is a positive contribution to the increasing flow of conferences and reports in recent years focusing on the importance of agriculture and in particular smallholder agriculture, in solving the curse of chronic hunger for about 1 billion people and in contributing to mitigation of climate change.

In two days time there undoubtedly will be another roadmap. This roadmap was inessence ready before the event started. But the conference, with its key-noteaddresses and side-events, had to provide the ritual ‘song and dance’ to justifythe map. Will it contain anything new, and will action take place? It is highly doubtful, given the multitude of “high-brow” final declarations of important conferences in the past and the results in practice. Let me provide some historical perspective.

At the World Conference in Rome of 1974, the ‘Final declaration on the eradicationof Hunger and Malnutrition’ was adopted by all 134 governments present. This declaration promised to eliminate hunger by the end of the century (mind you, that was the last century). At the World Food Conference in Rome of 1996 a more modest target was introduced; halving hunger by 2015. This target became part of MDG 1, halving poverty and hunger by 2015, in the Millennium Declaration of 2000. Duly signed by the representatives of 189 governments at the UN General Assembly in New York. The Food crisis of 2007/08 resulted in a flurry of conferences, statements and declarations of which the G-20 statement in 2008 in L’Aguila was notorious. Our world leaders said there and then:

There is an urgent need for decisive action to free humankind from hunger and poverty. Food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture must remain a priority issue on the political agenda, to be addressed through a crosscutting and inclusive approach, involving all relevant stakeholders, at global, regional and national level. Effective food security actions must be coupled with adaptation and mitigation measures in relation to climate change, sustainable management of water, land, soil and other natural resources, including the protection of the environment.

Thirty billion dollars were promised to make that happen, but two years later only a fraction of that amount has been made available.

All these conferences had their roadmaps, action plans, goals and broken promises. This conference in The Hague will not be different, unless governments and in particular African governments admit that they are poorly functioning (and we all know what that means) and neglecting the rights of the poor in their countries. They have to promise, carved in stone, to take immediate remedial action to improve on that.

Let there be no excuses; the world can easily provide the knowledge and the money, necessary to solve the problems surrounding food security and climate change. Friday we will have a brilliant roadmap, but ‘the proof of the pudding will be in the eating’. I pray, also on behalf of one billion poor and hungry people, that the taste will not be bitter again.

J.W. Eenhoorn is member of the UN Taskforce on Hunger, former Senior Vice President of Unilever and Associate Professor of Food security and Entrepreneurship at Wageningen University.